How I downsized from a 4 bedroom 3 bathroom house into an RV!
Yeah, I know, if I were a great blogger or more organized (or both), that would say “In 5 easy steps, and I’ll teach you how!” and it would be a short and sweet post.
But who I am kidding, downsizing is WORK! Especially when you downsize into less than 1/10th of the space without keeping another place where you can store stuff.
That 4/3 house was way too big in the first place so let’s not get into all the wrong reasons why I bought it despite better knowledge. One of the few good reasons though was being really close to my work. That was way before I discovered that was “a thing” in the FIRE community.
I just wanted a short commute because I used to travel a lot for my work and when I am home, I don’t want to spend hours in traffic just to get to and from work. I loved that I could even ride my bike to work and I did, yes even in the hot summers in AZ.
I also made many wonderful memories in the years I lived there, many backyard BBQs and parties (the backyard was another one of the good reasons for the purchase).
But as I said, it was too big, too much of a burden in upkeep and don’t get me started on all the money spent on mortgage, insurance, electricity, water, maintenance, upgrades, cleaning and all that good stuff.
As you can imagine, I was incredibly relieved, when the sale of that house closed in October of 2015, after having been on the market for what seemed like an eternity. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders!
After months of decluttering, donating, selling and giving away stuff, I was finally there!! A major milestone reached in my overall plan!! Some cash freed up to be invested so it could actually make me some money instead of being tied up in an asset that only costs money. YAY!
By the time the house sold, my original plan of downsizing into a much much smaller house, invest the funds freed up by the sale and take a few months off to travel with my cats in a small RV, had already gone by the wayside. Or at least the first part of that plan.
I am currently living the second part, as I am taking a year off to travel with DH and the cats in an RV. Full time. No smaller house anywhere in that equation…..
Where was I? Oh yes, how did I get there? It was a rocky road, lined with clutter!
They say giving up stuff becomes easier after a while the more things you let go. But for me it was the other way round. The first few things went pretty fast and I was so happy and excited to see them go. The house was under contract the first time in February with a rather short closing, so I started to put things on Craigslist and Facebook Yardsale sites, priced attractively and things sold fast, almost too fast. The contract fell through and the house looked pretty bare already. But as we all know, there’s still tons of stuff left in a seemingly empty house.
I did a few yard sales and priced items cheaply. At yard sales I had been to over the years I often was irritated who highly priced the items were. So I priced things to move and boy did they move. But I kept going through the house over and over and kept adding stuff to the yard sale pile. it almost became an addiction to find more stuff to let go. Not that there was a shortage though, even after 4-5 yard sales I still had lots of items.
At the time if felt like a never ending process! Looking back all of that seems ages ago!
I gave away a lot of things that I knew someone else would enjoy. Its’ much easier to let go of something if you know someone else will enjoy it. At the same time you have to be cautious not to push stuff onto others, that they are too polite to decline, just kicking the can down the road. I had a box of “rehoming items” for free in the car for a while that I took to every outing with friends. I also
forced encouraged every visitor go through things that were going to get donated or sold to pick out what they wanted.
I don’t like selling stuff to friends, I always feel I should give those things away. That is easy for smaller items. Just take it off my hands. But whenever a friend expressed interest in a more valuable item, that we both knew I could probably sell for good money, most people were not comfortable to accept it as a gift. So I asked for a donation to my favorite pet shelter instead. While I was downsizing I had a lot less time to help out the shelter, so this was a great way to make up for the short come whilst still working towards my goal of getting rid of stuff. It made people feel really good too, they got a great deal and helped the shelter in the process. Looking back that was definitely one of my favorite ways to let things go.
At the end I ran out of time because I had to go on a work trip right before closing, so I had to cave in and get a small storage unit. I strongly believe that storage is a waste of money, but I just needed to buy some time to sort the remaining things out later. I sorted whatever was left into three piles. Donate to homeless youth shelter, Put into Storage to figure out later, Keep to use in RV. I had originally planned to empty the storage within two months of closing but in the end needed close to five months instead.
Once we cleaned out the storage another big donation got sent to the homeless shelter.
I am fortunate that a friend lets me keep some keepsakes in his guest bedroom closet, along with a few career clothes I kept, should I ever need those again. Next time I will be in town, I’ll try to pare that stuff down some more. I almost feel like I am cheating a bit, by still having so much stuff in his space.
About 2/3 of my blouses and suits got donated along with shoes and belts and other stuff to the homeless youth career program. I sure hope they have a bunch of short chubby women who can use these items.
Are you planning on downsizing? Here are a few things to consider.
Get rid of stuff NOW! Even if you think you’ll be downsizing in a year or two! Pre-sort items in categories: Donate, Sell, Rehome, Keep, Undecided. Go through the undecided pile often. Start early, you can never start too early!! Actually stop reading now and find stuff to let go. It’s ok, I’ll wait!! Those single socks that you are keeping near the dryer….bye bye! The make-up that has been sitting underneath the bathroom sink for three years, that makes you break out, but you don’t want to toss, because it was so expensive. That top you bought, but never wore…..Oh and what about that JUNK DRAWER??? You KNOW what I am talking about! Do it now, you can thank yourself later!
Question why you want to keep stuff
Will you need it in your new place? Is it useful? Does it have memories attached? Was it expensive? Was it a gift? Have you moved it the last time and the time before, so you can’t let go now? Some reasons are better than others. Maybe a not so emotionally attached friend can help you decide which ones are the better ones. When I started to downsize, the Kon Mari Method was the latest fad. Everybody was talking about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I am a huge fan of all things Japanese, but asking my self if an item “sparks joy” was just not a practical approach for me in that particular situation. I know it does work great for others though.
Stop bringing in new things
I just stopped buying stuff other than consumables and items earmarked for donations way before I put the house on the market. Stop now, seriously! It’s also better for your savings rate.
Pick several sales platforms to reach a wider audience:
Craigslist, Facebook Yardsale and Marketplace groups (just search on FB for “your area” and “yardsale”, you can now even automatically cross post in different groups), Offerup, Ebay, Amazon, Yardsales etc. Different approaches reach different folks. I had good experiences on Facebook groups, you reach different kinds of people on different platforms.
Have great pictures and descriptions
Duh, I know, but when you are scrambling to post a house full of stuff, it’s amazing how often people forget to include measurements and other details. For pricier items and bulky things it definitely pays not only to have great pictures, but also to invest the time to measure them and describe them well. Otherwise you will be answering the same questions over and over and over again. Put as much info in your posting as possible.
Price to sell
And mean it. Don’t say “priced to sell, won’t last” if you are asking close to what you paid new. When a lot of people are interested in an item, but nobody bites, that’s usually a sign of a good item priced to high. Higher value pieces tend to sell better on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, as long as you have good pictures. Yard sales are better for volume nicknacks, as people have expectations of low prices. I cross marketed my yard sales via the Facebook groups, which worked great. And as my goal was to get rid of things, I had items grouped into 25 cents items and $1 items. My friend, who help me, thought I was crazy to sell so cheaply, but I got rid of a lot of things that way. Ask yourself: do you want to get rid of stuff quickly or do you have time to maximize sales price? It’s one or the other.
Rehome your stuff
If you have items you know friends would enjoy, rather give them away than selling them cheaply, but be careful not to push the can down the road by burdening people with your stuff. One man’s trash is an other man’s treasure, but sometimes trash is just…well….trash. So don’t be offened if your friend would rather not have your treasure.
Join a “Buy Nothing” group in your area.
Buy Nothing is an awesome movement started by people who help each other out with stuff. If there’s no group in your area, start one. You can also use Freecycle, but “buy nothing” is a lot more user friendly and focuses on your immediate neighborhood, so you may end up getting to know and help out neighbors.
Be strict about deadlines.
Sometimes it’s harder to give away things, than to just toss them, because people are tempted to jump at a great opportunity, but if they have no skin in the game, they won’t make the effort to show up and pick it up. It breaks my heart to toss stuff, so I’ll do whatever it takes to not have it end up in the landfill. But sometimes that can be frustrating. Giving away things often took more energy than just donating.
Offer items up for a donation to a charity of your choice.
I even had a Facebook page where I offered certain items in a mini impromptu fundraiser for my favorite pet shelter. That is a win win situation for everybody. Definitely my favorite way to “give away” items.
Ask yourself “Will I really miss this item”?
….a week from now, a month, a year? Will you even remember you had it? There are very few things I regret having gotten rid of and nothing I can truly be without.
Seriously, avoid it like the plague! Most people pay more for storage over the months and years than it would cost to buy their stuff again brand new. So don’t waste your money. If you need storage as an interim solution, try to make do with the smallest one you can find, so you are not tempted to keep more stuff. Also set yourself a deadline to clean it out fully. Valuable items are best not kept in storage in the first place.
Find a worthy organisation to donate items
Many charities run thrift stores or have other programs where they can use things you may be giving up. The homeless youth shelter in our city has a housing program to help get homeless youth into their own apartments so they gladly accept pots and pans and mugs and all kind of household items. They also have a career program that welcomed my career clothes and home office supplies.
It never stops
We have been living in the RV for several months now and I still feel I have too much stuff. Other than a laptop, that I needed to replace my desktop computer, I have purchased very little since moving into the RV. Although I have a lot less stuff now, I still feel the urge to purge! Letting go of stuff can be so freeing!
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